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The Road to Now

Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) & Dr. Ben Sawyer (MTSU History) share conversations with great thinkers from a variety of backgrounds – historians, artists, legal scholars, political figures and more –who help us uncover the many roads that run between past and present. For more information, visit TheRoadToNow.com If you'd like to support our work, join us on Patreon: Patreon.com/TheRoadToNow
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Now displaying: Page 2
Jan 15, 2024

Stephen Foster was America’s first great published musician. He wrote some of America’s great folk songs, including “Oh, Suzanna,” “Camptown Races” and “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and his music was the inspiration for Paul Green’s play “The Stephen Foster Story,” which is performed every summer in Bardstown, Kentucky. In this episode we speak with two of the artists involved in that play- Donna Phillips and Johnny Warren- as well as My Kentucky Old Kentucky Home State Park Mansion Supervisor, Richard Blanton, to learn more about Foster’s life, their work in preserving his memory, and how it all can help us understand our past.

 

If you’re traveling through Kentucky, make sure to check out dates for “The Stephen Foster Story” and visit My Old Kentucky Home Mansion!

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Jan 8, 2024

Ben & Bob kick off the new year with a conversation over some current events, including the history of New Year’s Resolutions (and why Bob doesn’t make them) and the 14th Amendment, and Ben shares what he learned about North Carolina history during his holiday road trip from Nashville, TN to Concord, NC to visit his family.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

 

Relevant links:

-“Swept Away w/ John Logan & John Gallagher Jr.” The Road to Now #219
      -on Apple podcasts
      -on Spotify

-John Pierce, “The Reasons for Secession: A Documentary Study,” from American Battlefield Trust (Battlefields.org), Updated October 3, 2023.

-“The Disqualification Clause,” What Roman Mars Can Learn About Con Law, episode 78, December 12, 2023.

-Robert Harrell (the Fort Fisher Hermit) at Wikipedia.org.

Dec 11, 2023

Dr. Eric Smoodin, film historian at the University of California- Davis and author of Regarding Frank Capra: Audience, Celebrity and American Film Studies, 1930-1960, joins Bob and Ben for the history of the people, the industry, and law that made Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life into one of America’s quintessential Christmas films.

Ben & Bob are taking a few weeks off for the holidays- we'll be back with all new episodes on January 8!

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

Dec 4, 2023

The suburbs have long been a symbol of American prosperity in the post-WWII era. Yet the contrast between suburban wealth and “inner city” poverty overlooks the stories of those living in suburbia who were unable to reach “the good life.” In this episode Ben & Bob talk with Tim Keogh, whose new book In Levittown’s Shadow: Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Suburb (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2023), explores the history of suburbanization in Long Island, New York, and argues that post-WWII prosperity relied on those impoverished suburbanites who we’ve since forgotten.

 

Dr. Tim Keogh is assistant professor of history at Queensborough Community College, part of the City University of New York.

 

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

Nov 27, 2023

As the person responsible for documenting the Obama Administration, Pete Souza spent more time with Barack Obama than almost anyone else, which left him with some deep in sights on Obama and the office of the Presidency. In this episode, Pete joins Bob for a conversation about his work as Chief Official White House Photographer, the state of American politics, and the power of photography. Pete’s most recent book, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents (Little, Brown, & Co, 2018) uses photography to contrast the stark differences between the Presidency of Barack Obama and that of Donald Trump.

 

If you enjoy this conversation, make sure to check out Pete’s other appearances on the show in episodes #251 & #151.

 

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #131, which originally aired on June 3, 2019. The original episode was edited by Gary Fletcher and Bob Crawford; this rebroadcast was edited by Ben Sawyer.

 

 

Nov 20, 2023

Faith has played an important role in American history, but not always in the ways we’d expect.

In this episode, Andy Polk joins Bob and Ben to explain how politicians, advertising executives and public relations experts bypassed America’s religious leaders, ignored theological debates, and dismissed historical evidence to fabricate and sell a story of America’s religious origins that served their own political needs. That story remains with us today so, to quote the title of Andy’s op-ed in The Tennessean: “When you hear ‘In God We Trust’, pay attention to what comes next.”

 

Dr. Andrew R. Polk is Associate Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University and the author of the new book, Faith In Freedom: Propaganda, Presidential Politics, and the Making of an American Religion (Cornell University Press, December 2021).

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

 

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #216, which originally aired on December 13, 2021. This rebroadcast was edited by Ben Sawyer.

 

 

Nov 13, 2023

Bob welcomes Mark McKinnon for an exit interview about his work as co-producer and co-host of The Circus. Showtime announced last week that after eight seasons and 130 episodes this would be the final season of the political docuseries.

 

Mark reflects on chronicling American political history as it happened from 2016 to 2023, during a turbulent period in American history that includes the rise of Donald Trump’s MAGA movement, a once in a century pandemic, and the largest war in Europe since WWII.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Nov 6, 2023

Monsanto’s Past, Our Future w/ Bart Elmore

 

The Monsanto Company officially ceased to exist when it was acquired by Bayer in 2018, but its legacy lives on in courtrooms, factory towns and farms across the globe. Today the company’s name is most associated with the herbicide Roundup and genetically modified seeds, but Monsanto also served as a leading producer of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, an essential supplier of caffeine and saccharin to Coca-Cola in Coke’s early years, and the sole US producer of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). In short, Monsanto’s history is one that will continue to shape the US well into the future.

 

In this episode, Bart Elmore joins Bob and Ben to talk about his new book Seed Money: Monsanto’s Past and Our Future (W.W. Norton, 2021), and how a small midwestern company founded in 1901 became an agricultural powerhouse by selling solutions to the problems it helped to create. 

 

Dr. Bartow Elmore is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University where he specializes in Global Environmental History and the History of Capitalism. He is also the author of the award-winning book Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (W. W. Norton, 2015). You can follow him on twitter at @BartElmore.

 

You can hear Bart’s other appearances on The Road To Now in episode #140:  Citizen Coke: The History of Coca-Cola w/ Bartow Elmore and #277: Country Capitalism w/ Bartow Elmore.

 

This is a fully re-edited and audio-enhanced rebroadcast of RTN Episode 208, which originally aired on September 27, 2021. This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

Oct 30, 2023

Two things you probably don’t know: 1) your favorite museum probably holds human remains and 2) it’s completely legal to sell human bones on the internet. Not surprisingly, those two things have caused a lot of controversy. In this episode, Tanya Marsh joins Ben for a conversation about recent developments in the legal-social-political nexus of dead bodies; the controversy surrounding the acquisition and treatment of human remains in American museums and what we’ll simply call “the Harvard morgue case.”

 

Tanya Marsh is Professor of Law at Wake Forest University, where she specializes in the law of human remains. She is the author of The Law of Human Remains (2015) and co-author (with Daniel Gibson) of Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States (2015).

 

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

 

Articles mentioned in this episode:

Zachary Small, “Facing Scrutiny, a Museum That Holds 12,000 Human Remains Changes Course,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2023.

 

Alyssa Shotwell, “Activists Took Over Museum After Victims’ Bodies of the 1985 Philadelphia Bombing Found,” The Mary Sue, Sept. 15, 2023.

 

Abby Patkin, ”Group indicted for allegedly stealing and selling body parts from Harvard morgue,” Boston.com, June 15, 2023.

 

Tanya Marsh, “Is it Illegal to Sell Human Remains,” The Conversation, June 30, 2023.

 

 

 

Oct 23, 2023

When Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, he and many others assumed that Russia’s “special operation” would end in a quick victory. Eighteen months later, an independent Ukraine stands strong, while Russia’s position has grown so weak that Putin has begun working to develop closer ties with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Why has Ukraine been so resilient, and why has Putin remained committed to a war that has done so much damage to Russia? The answer has everything to do with the ways those on both sides of the conflict understand history.

 

In this episode, historian Serhy Yekelchyk joins Ben to discuss the history of Russia and Ukraine, and how understanding the war on the battlefield requires understanding the conflicting historical narratives embraced by those on both sides.

 

Dr. Serhy Yekelchyk is Professor of History and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria. A native of Kiev, Serhy has published extensively on Ukranian history, including The Conflict in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2020) and Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation (Oxford University Press, 2007).

 

We’d like to give a special thanks to the Strickland family for establishing the Strickland Distinguished Lecture Series at Middle Tennessee State University, which brought Dr. Yekelchyk to MTSU’s campus, and to Emily Baran and Lynn Nelson for their help in arranging this recording.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.  

Oct 16, 2023

FBI agent Robert Hanssen was one of the most damaging spies in US history. From 1979 to 2001, Hanssen delivered some of the United States governments’ most sensitive secrets to Soviet and Russian agents, who used them to not only undermine US national security, but to identify and execute individuals who were working with the FBI. And despite an awareness of spies working within the FBI, Hanssen managed to operate for more than two decades before finally getting caught.

 

In this episode we speak with CBS News’ Major Garrett, whose new podcast Agent of Betrayal: The Double Life of Robert Hanssen, explores Hanssen’s decision to spy on the US and how he managed to operate for so long without being caught. A thoroughly researched history with all the turns of a great true crime podcast, we think you’ll enjoy Agent of Betrayal, available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Oct 9, 2023

From its founding in 1970, Rounder Records was different. What started as the passion project for three New England music lovers who wanted to preserve and proselytize folk and roots music, eventually grew into a record label with an eclectic catalogue featuring long-forgotten bands, promising musicians such as George Thorogood and Allison Krauss, and even an album just called “Hollerin’” (which is exactly what it says it is). Along the way, Rounder Records became indispensable in transforming American folk music. In this episode, we learn more about the history of Rounder Records from music historian David Menconi, author of the new book Oh, Didn’t They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music (UNC Press, 2023).

 

You can hear David Menconi’s playlist of key tracks from the Rounder catalogue on Spotify by clicking here.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Oct 2, 2023

In the late 18th century, tens of millions of buffalo lived in North America. By the mid-1880s, they were on the brink of extinction. For the white settlers who sought to “conquer” the American west, and the Native people whose way of life depended on them, the plight of the American Buffalo was more than a story of one species of animal. As Dayton Duncan writes in the prologue of his new book Blood Memory,  the buffalo has “emerged as an embodiment of the nation’s contradictory relationship with the natural world: venerated and mercilessly destroyed, a symbol of both a romanticized frontier and the callous conquest of a continent.” In this episode, Dayton joins us for a conversation about the Buffalo (aka American Bison) and how the story of one animal can tell us so much about American history.

 

Dayton Duncan is an Emmy award-winning writer whose most recent collaborations with filmmaker Ken Burns are the book Blood Memory: The Tragic Decline and Improbable Resurrection of the American Buffalo (Alfred A. Knopf, 2023) and the new documentary The American Buffalo, which premieres on your local PBS station on Monday, October 16, 2023 (check your local listings).

 

If you enjoyed this episode, check out our previous conversation with Dayton Duncan in RTN #229 on Benjamin Franklin.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Sep 25, 2023

What is Americana music? Is it a genre? A community? A refuge? Twenty four years after the founding of the Americana Music Association and thirteen years since the first Grammy was awarded for Best Americana Album, defining “Americana” remains tricky. In our experience, the most common answer has been “you know it when you hear it.”

 

However you define it, however, there is one thing everyone agrees on: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are Americana legends.

 

In this episode, recorded in front of a live audience in Nashville, TN, Emmylou and Rodney discuss their musical careers, how they became associated with Americana music, and what Americana means to them. Bob too shares his musical journey both before and after joining the Avett Brothers and the ways that genre (Americana and otherwise) has been part of that story.

 

Bob, Gary and I would like to thank Paul Lohr at New Frontier Touring for helping us get such incredible guests for the show, Adam Botner at Riverside Revival for making both the live show and the audio on this episode sound so good, Austin Sawyer of Drumming Bird & Annie DiRusso for opening the show with their incredible talent, and everyone who came out to make this such a special night.

 

We’d also like to give a special thanks to Jefferson Cowie for helping us prepare for the show.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. Live audio recording and mixing by Adam Botner.

 

Sep 18, 2023

Although he passed away a decade ago, Levon Helm is still the voice of Americana music. Always will be, in my opinion. Levon was drummer for The Band, collaborator with Bob Dylan, actor, husband, father, and friend. In his new book, Levon Helm: Rock, Roll, Ramble, author John Barry gives a first-hand account of Levon’s struggles with cancer and financial ruin that led to the legendary Midnight Rambles concerts at his home in Woodstock, New York.

On this episode of the Road to Now, Bob celebrates the life of Levon Helm with John, and musician and producer Larry Campbell who has worked with Levon, as well as Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, K.D. Lang, and Willie Nelson..­

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #250, which originally aired on October 22, 2022. This rebroadcast was edited by Otto Schroth.

Sep 11, 2023

Jason Thomas Gordon spent nearly a decade interviewing some of the greatest vocalists in modern music to find out about their earliest experiences singing, the voices that influenced them growing up, and how they learned to find their own unique voice. In his new book, The Singers Talk: The Greatest Singers of Our Time Discuss the One Thing They're Never Asked About: Their Voices, Jason shares some of the insights from his conversations with more than seventy artists from diverse genres, including Emmylou Harris, Chuck D, Lionel Ritchie, and Ozzy Osbourne, and where they fit within their generation and in the greater history of music.

Jason also shares with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which was founded by his grandfather, Danny Thomas. 100% of the royalties from The Singers Talk will go to Music Gives to St. Jude Kids, an organization that Jason created to support St. Jude. Click here to buy the book!

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Sep 4, 2023

The Kinks are one of the great rock bands of the 20th century and, like all artists, they reflect the times and places they’ve inhabited. In this episode, we speak with Mark Doyle about his excellent book  The Kinks: Songs of the Semi-Detached (Reaktion Books, 2020) and how the band, their origins, and Ray Davies’ lyrics reveal a lot about both the real and imagined spaces of mid-20th Century England.

Dr. Mark Doyle is Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, where he specializes in the history of the British Empire. His research and teaching have won him numerous awards including the Stansky Book Prize (co-winner, 2017) and MTSU’s Outstanding Teacher Award (2014-15). Ben once described him as “the Patton Oswalt of academic twitter,” so we recommend you follow him there at @DrMarkDoyle.  

We’re excited to announce that Ben & Bob will be recording a live episode of RTN on the history of Americana music in Nashville on September 18, 2023 w/ guests Emmy Lou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Jefferson Cowie! Click here for tickets. Hope to see you there!

This is a rebroadcast of the Road to Now #169, which originally aired on April 27, 2020. This version was fully re-cut and edited by Ben Sawyer.

Aug 28, 2023

The war between the US Army and the Native American confederation during the war of 1812 is a buried story in an often-overlooked event, yet its impact on the history of North America is profound. The leading figures on both sides of the war, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and US Army General William Henry Harrison, had come of age in the struggles over what is today called the Midwest United States, and both understood that losing the war would mean losing the future they imagined for their people. In this episode, Ben & Bob do a deep dive on the story behind that war with Peter Stark, author of the incredibly accessible new book, Gallop Toward The Sun: Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison’s Struggle for the Destiny of a Nation (Random House, 2023).

Peter Stark is an adventure and exploration writer and historian who was previously a correspondent for Outside magazine. His previous book, Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father, was named a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize in 2019. You can follow him on Instagram at @peterstark_adventure_historian.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

We’re excited to announce that Ben & Bob will be recording a live episode of RTN on the history of Americana music in Nashville on September 18, 2023 w/ guests Emmy Lou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Jefferson Cowie! Click here for tickets. Hope to see you there!

Aug 21, 2023

Washington D.C. in the 1850s was a tale of two cities. It was the Capitol city of a rapidly expanding new nation while at the same time ground zero for a politically fractured and divided nation hurtling toward disunion. Standing in the middle of it all was Montgomery C. Meigs, a military engineer who led the construction of two massive public works projects at the same time: the expansion of the Capitol building and an aqueduct to provide water to the residents growing city. Meigs would go on to serve as Quartermaster for the Union Army under Abraham Lincoln. Meigs was an innovator, public servant, and one of the most important patriots of the nineteenth century.

This week Bob welcomes author and journalist Robert O’Harrow Jr. to discuss his 2016 book, The Quartermaster: Montgomery C. Meigs, Lincoln's General, Master Builder of the Union Army.

For thirty years Robert O'Harrow Jr. was an investigative journalist and contributing writer at The Washington Post and was among the first national journalists to cover cybersecurity. In 2017, he part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of notorious Alabama political Roy Moore.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Aug 14, 2023

The recent changes to Florida’s education system have gotten nationwide attention, with similar stories playing out across the US. In this episode, Ben & Bob investigate the nature of these reforms, who is behind them, and how they may impact the students and teachers whose daily lives are directly affected by these changes. They are joined by Ana Goñi-Lessan, a Tallahassee-based journalist who covers the Florida legislature for USA Today and Dr. Andrew Polk, a history professor and former high school teacher who directs the history and social studies education initiatives for the Department of History at Middle Tennessee State University.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher

Aug 7, 2023
Ben & Bob have been on the road for most of the summer, so in this episode they catch up to talk about the 100th anniversary of the death of Warren G. Harding, the feedback they got from their conversation on ai, chat gpt and the future of tech w/ Roger McNamee, and their responses to the recent Congressional hearings on UAP (formerly known as UFO) sightings. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. Warren G. Harding Sources: Jordyn Phelps, “Ex-President Warren Harding’s Love Child Confirmed Through DNA Testing,” ABCNews.com, August 13, 2015. “President Warren Harding's Love Letters Open to the Public,” News from the Library of Congress, July 29, 2014. Megan Gambino, “Warren Harding’s Love Letters Finally Give Us Something to Remember Him For,” Smithsonian.com, August 29, 2014. Daniel McCarthy, “Warren Harding’s Read Scandal was his Conservatism,” New York Post, August 1, 2023. Bryan Pietsch, “Exhume the Body of Warren G. Harding? A Judge Says that Won’t be Necessary,” New York Times, Dec. 1, 2020. Jordan Michael Smith, “The Letters that Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You to See,” New York Times Magazine, July 7, 2014.
Jul 31, 2023

Slavery was an integral part of the American republic from the moment of independence until the abolition of the so-called “peculiar institution” with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The social and economic impact of the slave system, however, are much larger in terms of both time and geography. In this episode, Bob and Ben speak with Edward Baptist about slavery’s origins, its evolution, and how enslaved people’s work laid the foundation for modern capitalism. He also shares stories of the people who suffered under- and those who profited from- the inhumane system of American slavery.

Dr. Edward E. Baptist is Professor of History at Cornell University and author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2014), which won the 2015 Avery O. Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians and the 2015 Sidney Hillman Prize.

This is an enhanced rebroadcast of RTN #117, which originally aired on January 14, 2019. This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

Jul 24, 2023

George Carlin had a comedy career that spanned half a century, and his take on the US remains relevant more than a decade after his death in 2008. The new HBO documentary George Carlin’s American Dream tells Carlin’s story as he evolved from a clean-cut comic in the 1950s into the edgy critic who remains one of the most influential comedians of all time. In this episode, Michael Bonfiglio, who directed the film (along with Judd Apatow) and Kliph Nesteroff, a historian of comedy who is featured in the film, join Bob & Ben for a conversation about the life and times of George Carlin.

If you enjoy this episode, check out our previous conversation w/ Michael Bonfiglio in RTN #174 Direction w/ Michael Bonfiglio.

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #237. This rebroadcast was edited by Bob Crawford. 

Jul 17, 2023

Roger McNamee has spent decades helping American tech companies secure financing. In the last few years, however, he’s become well-known for helping American citizens secure themselves against tech companies. After helping convince Mark Zuckerberg to retain control over Facebook, Roger documented social media’s role in amplifying social division in his 2019 New York Times Best Seller Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe. Recently he’s turned his attention to AI, and he has a warning for us: don’t believe the hype.

In this conversation Roger joins Bob and Ben to discuss Artificial Intelligence, why he says it’s far from the disruptor its proponents have claimed it to be, and how our current assessment of AI actually causes many of the problems that will likely come from this new technology. Roger also shares his solution to better tech regulation, why he’s more hopeful about the future of the US than he has been in decades, and his second career in his band Moonalice (click here for music and tour dates). 

If you enjoy this conversation, you can hear our uncut conversation, which includes almost 30 minutes of additional audio, but joining us on Patreon at Patreon.com/TheRoadToNow. Already a Patron? Click here to listen to the uncut episode!

You can hear our previous conversation w/ Roger in RTN #178 “The Facebook Catastrophe w/ Roger McNamee.” 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Jul 10, 2023

In the years after World War II, Americans moved to the suburbs in search of the peace and safety that many came to equate with the “American Dream.” By the end of the 1970s, however, suburbanites had come sense that their privileged was under siege from satanic cults, drug dealers and kidnappers. In this episode, Bob and Ben talk w/ Kyle Riismandel whose new book Neighborhood of Fear examines how Americans responded to the real and perceived threats of suburban life and in doing so, shaped American society and politics in the late-20th Century and beyond.

Dr. Kyle Riismandel is Senior University Lecturer and Interim Director of the Law, Technology, and Culture Program in the Federated Department of History at the New Jersey Institute of Technology/Rutgers-Newark and Director of the Graduate Program in American Studies. His book Neighborhood of Fear: The Suburban Crisis in American Culture, 1975-2001 was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2020.

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #194, which originally aired on April 12, 2021.

This episode was oroginally edited by Gary Fletcher. This reair was edited by Ben Sawyer.

 

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